Online text of Unknown To History       Publication details, summary and bibliography   

Online text of Unknown To History

Click here for the latest version of Unknown To History online from Gutenberg
(Many thanks to Sandra Laythorpe and others)

Unknown To History – Publication details, summary and bibliography

(Text kindly supplied by Amy de Gruchy)


1882, published by Macmillan


According to some accounts, Mary Queen of Scots bore a child to her last husband, the earl of Bothwell, while imprisoned at Loch Leven. In Unknown to History C.M. Yonge weaves the story of this child, linking it with that of her mother. According to the novel, the child is christened Bride, and put on a ship bound for France. However, the ship is wrecked on the Yorkshire coast. Bride, the sole survivor, is rescued by one Captain Talbot. He and his wife rechristen her Cicely, and rear her as their own. They are high-principled and loving, and Cicely has a happy and secure childhood at their manor house.

However, it is near the place where Queen Mary, having escaped from Scotland, is living under the charge of the weak Earl of Shrewsbury and his termagant wife, Bess of Hardwick. Captain Talbot, as a gentleman in the service of the earl, has to endure the violent quarrelling of the noble family and the constant intriguing that surrounds Queen Mary. As a result of these intrigues, Cicely's identity is revealed first to her foster parents, then to Queen Mary, and lastly, by her, to the girl herself.

Cicely joins the queen's household, and though unhappy at the atmosphere of deceit and the plotting, is devoted to her mother, shares her later imprisonment, and travels to London to plead for her life before Queen Elizabeth. Her pleas fail, and she herself is in danger. Her foster brother, who has long loved her, marries her and takes her to Holland, having previously attended the Queen's execution. After Queen Elizabeth's death they return to England, where Cicely spends the rest of her life in happy obscurity, unknown to history.

The characterisation of Cicely, and her foster mother, the gentle, prudent and resourceful Susan, is good, as is that of the fictitious male figures. The historical characters are well shown, particularly Queen Mary, and minor personages, such as Anthony Babington and Sir Amyas Paulett, are brought to life.

Major and minor historical events are linked to the lives of the characters. C.M. Yonge strives to give an unbiased picture of the historical figures and their actions, showing both the unscrupulousness and duplicity of the captive Queen, and the equally devious counterplotting emanating from the English side. There is also much interesting information about the ordinary life of country gentry, and that found in the great houses of the period.

Of overt moral teaching there is none, but the Talbot family are shown as having an integrity and unobtrusive piety which directs them through all their difficulties.

Further reading

For contemporary reviews see L. Madden, J.B. Shorthouse and C.M. Yonge, unpublished thesis, University of London Diploma in Librarianship, 1964.

Charlotte Yonge's own Preface to Unknown To History

IN p. 58 of vol. ii. of the second edition of Miss Strickland's Life of Mary Queen of Scots, or p. 100, vol. v. of Burton's History of Scotland, will be found the report on which this tale is founded.

If circumstances regarding the Queen's captivity and Babington's plot have been found to be omitted, as well as many interesting personages in the suite of the captive Queen, it must be remembered that the art of the story-teller makes it needful to curtail some of the incidents which would render the narrative too complicated to be interesting to those who wish more for a view of noted characters in remarkable situations, than for a minute and accurate sifting of facts and evidence.

C. M. YONGE      

February 27 1882

Charlotte Yonge's bibliography for Unknown To History

Where did Yonge get the historical information for her novels?
Here some details of the authors and works that Yonge cites in her Preface to Unknown To History

Agnes Strickland(1796-1874)
Life of Mary Queen of Scots (1873)

You can find more information on Agnes Strickland in
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

John Hill Burton
History of Scotland, 8 vols. 1853 onwards

You can find more information on John Hill Burton in
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)
Lots more information all over the internet, though Mary's pages on the Royal Stuarts website is not a bad place to start for a well-illustrated overview.


Page 803

THERE can be no hesitation in assigning the first place among the novels of the month to the historical tale, Unknown to History, by the author of The Heir of Redclyffe. It is based on the story of the captivity of Mary Queen of Scots, the real events of which, and of Scottish and English history associated therewith, it depicts with some embellishments of fancy, but in the main with a substantial adherence to the facts. Although historical events and personages are prominent in the story, the interest of the reader is specially enlisted in the fortunes of a daughter supposed to have been borne by Mary, as the fruit of her marriage to Bothwell, while she was a prisoner at Lochleven, whose birth was kept a strict secret from herjailers, and especially froni Elizabeth of England, and was known only to a few of her most devoted attendants. As the child, in the event of the death of James, would be the heir to the throne of England and Scotland, her present safety was considered by Mary to be endangered, and in an attempt to smuggle her by sea to the keeping of some of Marys relatives in France, the vessel that carried her was wrecked, and all on board were supposed to have perished. The babe was rescued, however, by a gallant sailor and gentleman, one of Elizabeths captains, of the strain of Drake and Frobisher and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and was adopted as their own by him and his true-hearted wife, and reared by them in the innocence, purity, and vigorous mental and bodily healthfulness of a loving and robust English home. The romantic and ingeniously conceived incidents by which the childs real parentage is revealed to the foster-parents, to herself, and finally to Mary, are related with grace and spirit by Miss Yonge; and the relations of the child to Mary and to her foster-parents, and the contending feelings and emotions which she experiences, are delineated with a tenderness that sometimes melts into pathos. Miss Yonges descriptive sketches of the personages who figured in connection with Marys captivity, of the inception and development of the Bahington plot, and oftime social and domestic manners of the noble and middle classes of the period, are a delightful blending of fact and romance.

Joan Brampton's Bride Unknown

Bride unknown : a play for women in three acts by Joan Brampton

"Freely adapted from the novel Unknown to history by Charlotte M. Yonge"

London : Boston : H.F.W. Deane ; Walter H. Baker Co, 1953

Copyright 2000-2020      The Charlotte M Yonge Fellowship